What’s in a name? When it comes to tea, that’s a very good question, Bill.
Sadly, just because it says something on the side of a tin, it doesn’t always mean that what you’re actually going to get is the real deal.
It really is worth forking out a little extra for the absolute, guaranteed, certified, genuine article.
I’d just bought a 9 year old Pu-erh brick, but spotted this tea near the till.
It’s a proper Longjing, from the West Lake area of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
This tea is a product of the Hangzhou Xi Hu (West Lake) Longjing Tea Co.,Ltd, sold under the Gong (sometimes referred to by the English translation of “Tribute“) brand name.
As I understand it, the term “Xi Hu / West Lake” is now protected by the equivalent of the French “Appellation d’origine contrôlée“, meaning that in order to be called “Xi Hu / West Lake” it must be made with leaves from the designated 168 sq km area of Xi Hu. This tea comes with the appropriate Quality & Safety and product licensing numbers on the label to certify its authenticity.
We paid 205 Swedish Crowns for a 50g tin, which is $24.02 US, £16.97 GB, or €21.94 at the time of writing.
The tea is Gong Brand’s A.Exclusive grade. A lookup based on the QS and product licensing numbers, (the in-browser translation feature came in jolly handy here!), reveals that this tea is a “pre-rain” tea, i.e. made between April 4th and 20th, which agrees with the date printed on the label.
Although not of as high a quality as teas that are made from “pre-Ming” plucked buds and leaves (20th March till 4th April), this is still spring growth, the first flush of the year, when the buds and young leaves are jam-packed with tasty goodness.
The info I found was even able to tie the tea down to “Longjing Village Scenic Area No. 160“.
The tea has the familiar flattened, sword-like budset associated with Longjing. The dry aroma was very delicate, but once the tea was gently shaken in a heated gaiwan, the aroma exploded out – sweet, toasty, and biscuit-like.
I steeped in a gaiwan, using 5g of leaf to 150ml of water at 80°C. The first infusion was 5 seconds, and subsequent infusions added a further 5 seconds to the time. ( Update – 7th. March 2016. Since I wrote this post I’ve tried infusing this tea at a slightly hotter 85°C. The results were significantly better!)
The real difference between this and the generic Longjing I have bought before can only be described in terms of music, to be honest. This Longjing had what I’ll call a more balanced overall flavour – the generic Longjing was nice enough, but compared to the certifiably authentic Longjing was “treble heavy” – this Longjing had more of a satisfying “bass” feel to it, if that makes sense.
I got 5 good steepings from the leaves before the flavour started to fade.
I think it should be noted that although this tea is very nice indeed, at nearly 1 year old it’s generally considered to be coming up to the twilight of its best days. That said, an elderly but authentic West Lake Longjing is still a very good tea, and well worth the extra expenditure.
Soon, however, it will be time for the spring harvest to start, and the 2016 Longjings will begin appearing in the shops.
Banks cards at the ready, mes amis…